5 Essential Tips That Can Help Your ESL Students Check for Comprehension
Consider the following scenario
T: Do you know anyone who has lied recently?
S: Yes, my husband lied on the bed when he had a headache.
This type of exchange probably seems familiar to some or, I would even dare say, most of you. Our ESL students don't always understand everything and not quite understanding is an ever present condition for most ESL students. At some point it is bound to happen, whether it is because they don't understand a word, phrase, question or general conversation. When this happens, they need to know what to do. As usual there are great techniques you can teach them to manage this type of situation comfortably.
Identify what they don’t understand and communicate it
So, let's start with the basics. When there is something students don't understand, the first thing they need to do is identify is what it is. I know that may sound obvious, but what happens very often is that when they don't understand something, they automatically freeze and say to themselves, “I don't understand”. Many even get nervous or panic, and others might end up shying away out of fear or frustration. That is something we can't allow as ESL teachers. Tell your students they need to open up, calm down and identify what exactly they don't understand. For each scenario, there is an option. For instance, not understanding a word is very common, after all we can't expect our students to become familiar with every word. Teach them expressions to communicate what they haven't understood. That way they can easily overcome this problem. Here are some useful expressions.
- Excuse me, I don't know what … means.
- Pardon, I'm not familiar with that word you used.
- Excuse me, what does … mean?
When they don't understand what the other person is talking about in general, they can also communicate it like this.
- I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean.
- Could you say that again, I didn't understand.
- Pardon, would you mind saying/asking that again?
Context is key
Context is the setting in which communication happens. Since it affects the message we send and receive, it is everything where understanding is concerned. Not just for ESL students, for anyone anywhere context is key to communication, otherwise we simply don't understand or, what is worse, misunderstand. It is important for your students to keep context in mind when trying to understand. Also, keep in mind that many conversational exchanges in specific situations are similar in most languages. Teach your students what to expect in different situations and they will be better prepared to understand and communicate in each.
Rephrase what you think they said
There are times our students think they have understood but simply aren't sure. Perhaps after picking up on key vocabulary and keeping the context in mind, they were able to grasp a bit of the conversation but still, they'd like to be sure. There are ways to help them verify if what they heard and understood is correct. A useful way to practice this is to have them practice short exchanges where they can take turns clarifying what they have heard. Take a look at the following examples.
Student 1: The presentation is going to keep us busy all morning.
Student 2: You mean we will need time to finish it, right?
I didn't catch that, could you repeat it please
Sometimes the problem that lies behind not understanding has nothing to do with words or phrases but simply not hearing what the other person said. Maybe your student is in a room that's very noisy, a party, or also perhaps the other person was not loud enough. Whatever the reason is, they will need to let the person know they weren't able to hear them and ask them to repeat what they have said. Take a look at the following examples that can help your student ask for repetition.
- Pardon/ Excuse me, could you repeat that?
- Would mind saying that again?
- It is rather loud in here, could you say that again?
It is our duty as ESL teachers to give our students the tools they need to cope with different situations.
By covering as many of these situations as possible in our ESL lessons, our students will be ready for anything.